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Multiple red lines come up to a wall and the blue line with the handicap symbol is the only one that can pass through the wall.

Mobility Aids — Friend or Foe?

I had begun to walk like a drunk, and not just on Saturday nights. Within three years of being diagnosed with primary progressive MS, I needed some ambulatory assistance. Without consulting a medical professional, I purchased a wooden cane — something that looked rugged, masculine, outdoorsy, and decidedly nonmedical. Still, I dreaded the thought of using it in public.

Mitch standing with his wooden cane

Trying my cane out in public

I worked up the courage to try it out at the annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration in Portland, Maine, near where I live. My wife Kim and I bumped into only one acquaintance, who acted as if she didn’t even notice. Still, I kept the cane hidden at home for a few more weeks.

Then we had visitors from Ohio, and if I was going to be a gracious host and show them around town, I would need the support of my new cane. One day, as we strolled down Commercial Street, I noticed a piece of trash paper lying on the sidewalk. In one deft motion, I plucked the paper from the ground with the tip of my cane and placed it in the dumpster, without breaking stride. My friends were impressed with my new superpowers.

My mobility aid became my cool sidekick

Soon enough, this mobility aid became my cool sidekick. “Have you met my cane?”

My transitions to the next two mobility aids — forearm crutches and motorized scooter — went smoothly. Then, I ran up against the big one.

Mitch standing with his forearm crutches

Mitch riding on a lawn in a motorized scooter

I’ve come to realize that there is no relationship between human and machine more intimate than that between a wheelchair and its user. The chair serves not only the function of legs, but also couch, recliner, dining room chair, car seat, chaise lounge, dog walker, coat rack, drink holder, shopping cart, and getaway vehicle. It is, therefore, ironic that the common term for such a condition is confined to a wheelchair, when, in fact, the more accurate term is empowered by a wheelchair.

Using a wheelchair would be my decision

Nobody would tell me when it was time for a wheelchair. That would be my decision. Things were different for my mother. She suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury, and there was no doubt she would require a wheelchair.

With a progressive disease, however, there is no single moment in time where everything changes. I wrestled with the decision for months. Some days I felt sure it was time, and other days the concept of a chair with wheels seemed absurd.

This internal debate wasn’t only about my physical condition. There were psychological machinations as well. As the wheelchair possibility came into focus, I began to long for resolution. Let’s just do it and get it over with, I would think.

It was time

I didn’t so much choose my wheelchair, as it chose me. But that’s a story for another day. When I became aware of the iBot, the most sophisticated wheelchair ever built, it was as if the universe had sent me a message. Mitch, it’s time.

Mitch on a beach in his iBot wheelchair

As soon as I began using a wheelchair, my life became better. The wheelchair was my friend.

By the time you realize you’re thirsty, your body is already dehydrated, or so I’ve read. I contend that by the time you consider a mobility aid, you’re already missing out on life. You’re spending all your time at home (or at work if you’re still able). You have stopped going out in public. Your friends have stopped asking you to socialize because you always decline. Your quality of life has diminished.

Your world opens up when you adopt a mobility aid

Then, when you quench your thirst, when you adopt a mobility aid, your world opens up, and once again life becomes enjoyable and fulfilling. That is, if you let it; if you don’t allow the social stigma of a mobility aid to limit you in the same way your disability limited you.

Although mobility aids serve as markers of disease progression, the days immediately before we adopt an aid are some of our worst, and the days after we adopt an aid are some of our best.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Belly Dansah
    2 months ago

    I use a cane that I have decorated and looks quite cool and I don’t mind it as much. I now have another mobility device that has me moving freely easily, efficiently and it’s SUPER fun! It is called the Alinker. It’s a walking bike that is a total game changer! http://www.thealinker.com

  • MarkUpnorth
    2 months ago

    Just wanted to say…. I used a cane for 5+ years to keep from falling. Yeah, got over the shameful thing quick, because…I needed that daxx thing. BUT…
    I used it to walk every thing I could do, always pushing myself. My cane, one of many I collected over the years, now hangs on the wall as an accomplishment or trophy! Healthy eating, no processed foods, and a never ending will to push on, has me walking with a fitness tracker 10K steps minimum a day! From comatose in la la land heavy M.S. brain fog to this! Please, stop, do what you can do to improve yourself.. Yes, I still have a 101 M.S. gifts, but I can walk again! You can too!

  • Toddlius
    2 months ago

    I’ve been using a 4-prong cane for a couple of months now, but I still have to walk *really* slow. Considering just switching to using a walker full-time so my wife doesn’t worry as much about me falling, though my balance with it isn’t a whole lot better. Thank you for the great article.

  • Mitch Sturgeon moderator author
    2 months ago

    Toddius, it seems like you’re on the right track in that you are considering what options will follow. I skipped the walker — going from crutches directly to a scooter, but it’s a personal decision.

  • Linda uses a cane
    2 months ago

    I love this awakening moment, of the by the time you realize you’re thirsty, you are already dehydrated. I will also introduce my cane while I’m out. Thank you for a great story.

  • Mitch Sturgeon moderator author
    2 months ago

    Linda, I’m glad you liked my article. I love your username!

  • Legsonstrike
    5 months ago

    Thank you so much for responding,i love this site!! And all of you!!

  • Legsonstrike
    5 months ago

    I just got your book on my Kindle!! So excited to read it!!

  • Mitch Sturgeon moderator author
    5 months ago

    Let me know what you think of it…

  • Legsonstrike
    5 months ago

    Love to read your responses, you empower me to try harder!! Is there a website I can purchase your books on?

  • Legsonstrike
    5 months ago

    Love to read your responses, you empower me to try harder!! Is there a website I can purchase your books on?I just purchased it on my Kindle

  • Contalita
    5 months ago

    Hello, Careejean( I hope I spelled your name right) well it probably has occurred to you to try to find a used one on Letgo or OfferUp websites… I was able to locate a new one that was under $500 it’s a 3-wheel mobility scooter sold at Walgreens(its very similar to the much more expensive Jazzy) they also carry four-wheel scooters as well as motorized chairs for a very economical price( recently I assisted a neighbor it’s purchasing one get fit their needs) the best part is they are sturdy & but. most they weigh under 300 lb and are portable some have fold-down handles that can fit in the car’s trunk or very easily into a van. Careejean, I hopes this helps ☺.

  • Contalita
    5 months ago

    Hello, Mitch Wow what an inspirational and supportive article, a few years ago my siblings and I help our dad shop for a motorized chair, with all the information we’ve received there was nothing that explained the pros of having the chair, as well as you have☺. Thanks

  • Mitch Sturgeon moderator author
    5 months ago

    Especially the part about it being a getaway vehicle!

  • Contalita
    5 months ago

    Helllo, & please there’s no shame in using cane( yes a rhyme☺) a few years ago I had surgery on both feet one year they did the left left and the following year they did the right, & currently using a prescribed ankle brace, this past February I had a fall did not break anything but I had a compression cast for my right hand, Pinterest physical therap( right hand still improved I cannot hold change if only I had used the cane that day. I now use a cane and due to surgery a few years ago I do have a 3 wheel mobility scooter, it’s height weight and got it at Walgreens it was under $500… so the moral of the story if only I had had my cane I wouldn’t have so many problems now with my right hand( feel so numb it feels like it’s dead.)

  • Mitch Sturgeon moderator author
    5 months ago

    I hear you. I used to fall all the time, but I was lucky enough not to break anything. One nice thing about being in a wheelchair is that I never fall anymore!

  • sip1beer
    5 months ago

    I, too, fought mobility aids. My first cane was a snappy metal cane with a brass handle. My sister bought it for me. I couldn’t. When I got it, I knew we’d have to become friends, so I named him. The TV show Frazier was popular then, so I name him Frazier Cane, after the main character, Frazier Crane. When I outgrew my cane, I got a walker. Hmmm. What to name him? Jerry Jeff, after the singer Jerry Jeff Walker. Now I’m on a scooter. I had a hard time with a name until I saw an episode of the cartoon Futurama. The main character had a miniature spaceship name Scooty Puff Junior. That night Scooty was named! If you gotta have a mobility device, make it a welcomed part of your life…your friend. Note that all mine are male. I guess a delicate flower like me needs to be helped by a male. Oh wait. That must be someone else.

  • Shelby Comito moderator
    5 months ago

    I love this so much, @sip1beer!! I think naming your mobility aids is such a great way to “become friends” and make these helpers a welcomed part of your life. I so appreciate you sharing this! – Shelby, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

  • Legsonstrike
    5 months ago

    Shelby I can’t find the articles you suggested that I read on accepting MS, CAN YOU please post them again? I am new to this sure, signed up years ago but could never figure out how to use it. I’m learning slowly but surely!! Thank you for the sweet comments, I just love this site!!

  • Shelby Comito moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi @legsonstrike! I think you’re referring to Christina’s comment on your story which included some articles on diagnosis acceptance. You can find her comment with the article links at the bottom of your story here: https://multiplesclerosis.net/stories/coping-diagnosis/comment-page-1/#comments_anchor Hope that helps! Best, Shelby, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

  • Mitch Sturgeon moderator author
    5 months ago

    “I knew we’d have to become friends, so I named him.”

    I love it!

    And I suspect you’re anything but a delicate flower 🙂

  • clsuhre
    5 months ago

    I’ve been thinking about a scoot-around type chair for a while, mainly to be able to say “yes” to longer trips like to DC or DisneyWorld. A friend had one for sale after the death of her mother – barely used because it weighed too much for Mom to lift out of the car – and sold it to me for much less than its book value. It’s good to know I can have it while I’m out and about, and I’ve used it a couple times, for a baseball game and a trip to the mall. My doctor was lukewarm about writing a prescription for a chair, but finding this one, used, near home, made it easy for me to lay some groundwork for my future.

  • Mitch Sturgeon moderator author
    5 months ago

    I’m happy that you’ve been able to get some use out of a secondhand chair, but I have to wonder about your doctor being lukewarm. Maybe get a second opinion? Remember, if you’re now thinking about a wheelchair, you probably needed one yesterday.

  • ASAPcindy
    5 months ago

    I often thought about writing an article called ¡accessories Not Included. It’s like what you said: by the time you realize you need one, you’ve probably needed one for a while. I’ve always been one device behind. When I used a cane I probably was ready for a forearm crutch, and when I used a forearm crutch I probably should have used two. So now I am at evolution of my next mobility aid, the wheelchair. I bought a basketball/sports model off Craigslist. Those kind with the swing out foot supports were ok, but I always losing them. Now my problem is because the wheels slant in it won’t fit thru the doorway. I found the owners manual and there were directions on how to make it narrower. Now I need to find a handyman to tweak it. The ibot allows you to stand up, correct? I saw a scooter that elevates, but insurance won’t cover it. I just am so sick of being parked somewhere, stranded in a transport chair. I would like to go somewhere under my own steam and look people in the eye when having a conversation. I also want to weigh what I weighed in high school, but that doesn’t look like that’s happening any time soon, either. Thanks for you post!

  • Mitch Sturgeon moderator author
    5 months ago

    Depending on your insurance situation, you should be able to get a wheelchair evaluation so that you can get a wheelchair that serves your needs. Compared to a transport chair, a power chair will make you one happy Wheeler 🙂

  • Careejean
    5 months ago

    Even with insurance how can one afford one?

  • Mitch Sturgeon moderator author
    5 months ago

    I wish I was an expert on funding sources. I know there are lots of supportive organizations, but sometimes they’re difficult to find. You could start with your local National Multiple Sclerosis Society office. They often have a list of funding resources.

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